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Sebastian Vettel’s re-emergence with his Ferrari has been a vital part of the competition this season for the Formula One Drivers’ Championship. Since 2014, Mercedes have dominated the sport, with their drivers winning the three titles, and securing the runner-up spots, at the top of the standings.
Lewis Hamilton won back-to-back crowns in 2014 and 2015, finishing well ahead of Nico Rosberg in second place. The nearest challengers behind them were Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Vettel in 2015, but both men were nowhere in the vicinity of matching the two Mercedes’ drivers.
Although the order changed last season, where Rosberg narrowly triumphed ahead of Hamilton, the struggle for the other sides remained, with Ricciardo finishing a distant third place – over 120 points off the pace of the two Mercedes battling for the crown.
That was not expected to change this term, despite Rosberg’s shock retirement. However, Ferrari have emerged from the shadows to challenge Mercedes' dominance at the pinnacle of the sport.
It’s a testament to how big is Formula 1 betting in UK market that the backing of Hamilton has shortened his odds for the Drivers’ Championship following his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, with the Brit touted at 7/10 to win the crown. However, there is a long season ahead and the challenge from Vettel and Ferrari will test him.
Ferrari developed a new car in the off-season, the SF70H, in their bid to make ground on Hamilton and his new teammate Valtteri Bottas at the top of the leaderboard.
The improvements from their old model were evident from the early testing sessions, matching the pace of the new Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+. Vettel gained confidence in his new vehicle, taking second place on the grid at the Australian Grand Prix.
The German made a statement in the race in Melbourne, defeating Hamilton and Bottas with his new-found pace to claim his first victory since Singapore in September 2015.
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Hamilton responded with his first win of the season, proving that he and Mercedes are still the team to beat at the top of the standings.
However, an error from the Brit allowed Vettel to snatch an important win in the Bahrain Grand Prix even though both cars had matched each other fairly well over the course of the race.
Bottas put himself into the mix in Russia, notching his first win of the campaign, with Hamilton enduring struggles with his car, while the German was unable to match the pace of the Finn.
Hamilton readdressed the balance at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, pulling within six points of Vettel in first place at the Spanish Grand Prix with his second win of the season. The German’s consistency has given him the early edge over the Brit, but with Bottas in contention as well – the race for the crown certainly has more appeal than the battle between the two Mercedes.
The sport has been starved of competition between two separate teams at the top of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship over the last decade. First Vettel and Red Bull were on top and dominant for four seasons on the bounce before Mercedes and Hamilton rallied.
Finally, both drivers are now on even footing and it could provide the intense battles that lit up the sport in the past, such as Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher in the 1990s. It’s a battle Formula One needs to revitalise the era – which has been lopsided pending on which drivers has been at the right team at the right time.